Authentic Leadership Doesn’t Pigeon Hole People

Authentic Leadership is a balancing act. 

An authentic leader must understand the strengths and weaknesses of their people. They must make judgments about their people and make certain that they are giving their people the best chance to succeed. 

It’s a balancing act because authentic leaders can’t afford to be judgmental while making the judgments required to help their people succeed. Authentic leaders know better than to apply their own life’s circumstances and values to the situations and decisions of their people. Authentic leaders accept most everything at face value. 

Authentic leaders know that judging a person does more to define themselves than it does the person they judge. They also know that every person is in someway unique and gifted. Authentic leaders invest the time to discover what those gifts are and find a way to put them to use.

Authentic leaders are realists and they are fair. There will always be a person or persons who a leader “prefers” working with but that preference shouldn’t mean “extra” benefits or opportunities for that “preferred” person. Rules and policies apply equally or they don’t really apply at all.

Most of all, a leader should never pigeon hole their people.  For those of you unfamiliar with the term “pigeon hole” it means to decide that someone or something belongs to a particular type or group, especially without knowing much about them.

This is where authentic leaders really separate themselves from the more common leader: They know their people. They know what motivates them, they know their challenges and goals. They see their people as PEOPLE and not merely a resource to be allocated. 

They invest the time everyday, yes everyday, to understand them as people. They work to understand their environment, backgrounds, past successes and failures. They can make judgments without being judgmental because they know where their people are coming from. 

If you’re a leader who believes (accurately) that your own success is dependent upon the success of your people then don’t judge what you don’t know. If you’re a leader who believes that your organization’s greatest asset is it’s people then invest your time with your greatest asset. 

People want to matter and when they know that they matter to you then and only then will you have the opportunity to truly lead.

The Murderous Nature of The Status Quo

Are you a “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” kind of leader? Do you believe in “leaving well enough alone?” Have you ever looked at your organization, your team or your processes and said confidently “we’re good, no need to reinvent the wheel?”

Consider that last statement for a moment. Imagine if the wheel really had never been reinvented. History tells us that the first wheels were apparently made from stone. They were as round as they could make them but I’ve yet to see an image of a perfectly round wheel from the days of the first wheels.

Think about a brand new shiny car with GPS and bluetooth and all the comforts of home… with stone wheels. I’ll bet that would do a number on the gas mileage, not to mention how it could kill the drive though business at Starbucks. Can you imagine trying to drink a hot cup of coffee while riding around on “almost” round stone wheels.

Now aren’t we glad that somebody ignored the advice and actually did reinvent the wheel!

Nothing kills progress like the status quo. Leaders who are satisfied with the “as is” will never experience the accomplishment of achieving the “should be.” Authentic leaders are constantly looking for a better way. Their goal isn’t necessarily perfection; it’s simply to be better tomorrow than they are today. It has nothing to do with how good they are, even the best are always striving to be better.

Being better tomorrow than you are today will require change. Improvement and growth requires that someone or something change. The reason that some leaders get comfortable with the status quo is that change also comes with risk and some leaders will do anything to avoid risk.

The problem is that businesses that attempt to avoid all risks likely avoid continued success at the same time. Leaders of any type of organization who are too risk adverse lose the opportunity to achieve all that they could.

In their attempt to avoid risk and keep everything just as it is they almost guarantee that what they have they won’t have for long. If you disagree with that then just travel to Canada and talk with the well-meaning team at Blackberry. Blackberry, formerly known as Research in Motion, is the perfect case study of an organization hanging on to the “as is” at the expense of the “should be.”

The world today allows no person and no organization seeking continued success to sit still.  A business satisfied with the status quo most likely has stakeholders that aren’t satisfied at all.

As a leader it is imperative that you know that if you’re not moving up then you’re most assuredly moving down.

The status quo is a murderer; it kills progress while providing the illusion of comfort and success. Don’t however, attempt to hold the status quo accountable for the death of your success, the status quo means no harm, death is just it’s nature.

Leaders who consort with the status quo and hold it dear, well now, their accountability for the death of success is a whole different matter.

People Really Do Follow the Leader

Follow the leader isn’t just a children’s game. It’s a fact of life.

People really do follow the leader. They do what the leader does. They behave as the leader behaves. They act the way the leader acts.

They don’t very often do what the leader says, unless of course what the leader says is the same thing the leader does. As a leader, who you are makes a difference. The most important message you can share is yourself. Your people watch you constantly, they are watching to determine if you’re the type of leader they can trust. 

Here’s the most basic leadership equation of all: trust = follower-ship. Where there is no trust there can be no true following. True following comes from commitment and while a leader’s position may get them the compliance of their people only trust can earn commitment.

If a leader isn’t trusted by their people then don’t be surprised when the people aren’t trusted by the leader. People really do follow the leader.

Everything a leader says and does either adds to or subtracts from their “credibility bank.” Almost nothing is credibility neutral, everything matters. Authentic leaders know that and work to make certain that their words match their actions as much as possible. 

Let me say this as clearly as I can; if your credibility sinks low enough you may have a title or position of leadership but you’re not leading anymore. You can’t be leading because people can’t follow a leader with low credibility. If you have no followers then you’re not leading no matter what your business card might say.

People do follow the leader but only if that leader is a person they can trust. If you can’t pass the trust test then all your leadership efforts will come up short. Your vision will never be realized, your influence will be limited, and your success will be in doubt. 

If you want to be a leader that people will follow then don’t work for a position or title that people will “have to” follow. Instead work to become the type of person they will want to follow. 

Be the type of person they can trust! 

The Legacy of Authentic Leadership

If you’re a leader who is ready to move on, either by promotion, for a new challenge or even retirement and there is no one prepared to step in and take your place then no matter what your accomplishments have been, you have not fully succeeded as a leader. 

Authentic leaders build more leaders not just a bigger following.

At any level of an organization the surest way to advance is to prepare others to succeed in the position that you currently hold. That’s where true job security comes from. Never limit your thinking to the belief that “job security” only comes from the job you currently hold or company where you are currently employed. 

The ability to build leaders ensures that you’ll always be in demand, it ensures that you’ll always have “job security.” Today, more than ever before true job security comes from what you bring to an organization.  Job security doesn’t come from a job or an organization, it comes from you.

Leaders who see themselves as “the boss” responsible only for controlling and ruling people miss out on what authentic leadership is all about. Authentic leadership is about building other people, not yourself and not a company or organization. When a leader builds people they take care of building the company or organization. 

The process of building other people begins with a change of mindset. If you’re “spending” time on your people you must change your thinking to one of “investing” time with your people. If you do not see your people as an asset to invest in then you’ll find it very difficult to make the personal sacrifices required to truly build them.

Personal sacrifices include putting their needs before yours. It includes listening, really really listening even when you just don’t have the time. If you’re going to truly build more leaders you’ll need to courageously have the difficult conversations that leaders who just spend time on their people won’t have.

Most of all, more than any other single thing if you’re going to build more leaders then you’re going to have to accept the fact that your leadership is about other people and not about you. You’re legacy as a leader will be determined by the success of the people you lead when you’re not leading them anymore. 

If you really want to determine the effectiveness of a leader then don’t look at the leader, look at the people they lead. If you don’t like what you see when you look at your people then don’t ask what they need to change, ask instead what you need to change. 

That’s authentic leadership! 

Do Leaders Really Need Good Judgment?

There was a time when that question would never have been asked. It was a foregone conclusion that sound judgment was a prerequisite for effective, authentic leadership.

Today however there are some leadership “experts” who are in fact asking that very question. They point out, correctly I might add, that today we have terabytes, and megabytes of data. We have charts and graphs and grids with every color of the rainbow looking at every possible situation from every possible angle. All the data, some experts say, leads the leader right to the proper decision. No real judgment is needed.

I’m not sure I can say crap in this blog but let me tell you, that “expert” thinking is a load of crap in there every was one. Today, as in every other day in history and as in every day in the future, judgment mixed with discernment, or as I prefer to call it “judgcernment” is as vital as it ever was or ever will be.

The experts point out that using data takes the personal bias out of a leader’s decision making and thought process. Well isn’t that just swell; we no longer need a leader who thinks, they just have to be able to read a pie chart. That’s just crazy!

Data may provide facts but wisdom comes from judgment.

We need wise leaders. I want a leader who applies their “life lens” to a situation. I want a leader who uses their experience to make a decision. If the right person is doing the leading I even want them applying their own bias to the decision making process.  

Good leaders have good data but great leaders use their experience and knowledge to judge what data to believe. It might be possible to manage using pure data but people won’t be managed, they want to be led. When you attempt to remove the “human element” from leading human beings the result is utter leadership failure. I’ve never seen a person’s life illustrated on a spreadsheet but there are empty cells in everyone’s history. Judgcernment is required to fill in those blanks.

Is good judgment still a prerequisite for leadership success? Decide for yourself but know this; your answer likely will speak volumes about the authenticity of your own leadership approach.

The Difference in Delegation

Webster’s defines responsibility as: the state or fact of being accountable or to blame for something and the state or fact of having a duty to deal with something or someone.

Authority is defined as: the power or right to give orders, make decisions, and enforce obedience. Another definition says: a person or organization having power or control in a particular, typically political or administrative, sphere. Still another definition says: the right to act in a specified way, delegated from one person or organization to another.

Notice the key differences between the definitions of responsibility and authority. When leaders delegate a task and that delegation fails it is most often because the leader delegated the responsibility to complete the task without also delegating the authority required to accomplish it. 

The person that the task was delegated to is accountable and can be “blamed” for the failure but in reality they had little chance for success because the delegator insisted on holding on to the power, or authority, to actually accomplish the task.

Effective delegation is one of the most productive methods for building future leaders in any leader’s tool box. Unfortunately, many leaders choose simple delegation over effective delegation. 

They don’t have the confidence in their people or themselves to delegate both responsibility and authority for a task.  They make their people responsible for a potential failure without providing them with a major key to delegation success, authority.

What these types of leaders often fail to understand is that their own success is completely dependent upon the success of their people. When they set their people up for potential failure they set themselves up for potential failure as well.

Another thing some leaders fail to understand is that while they can indeed fully delegate the authority required to succeed at a task, responsibility can never be fully delegated. The leader or delegator, will always maintain some responsibility for the task that was previously theirs. 

When leaders covet authority to the degree that they cannot share it they fail at one of their foremost responsibilities: building more leaders. 

I was asked not long ago about the keys to building future leaders. One of the “keys” I answered with was allowing people to fail. Allowing them to fail and also allowing them to “fix” the failure themselves. Let them make a mistake, let them figure out what the mistake was. Let them figure out how it was made and how it can be fixed and avoided the next time. Let them do all this with you as their leader along side them to coach and support, not DO. Help them find their success so that they will know how to succeed when you’re not there to coach and support them.

None of that “figuring out” will likely happen if they don’t have the authority to “fix” the mistake as well.

Do you trust your leadership ability enough to trust the people you lead? Do you have the confidence to share your own authority so your next generation of leaders will one day have the confidence to share it too?

How you answer those two questions will go along way towards determining whether you’re building a compliant following or you’re building committed leaders. 

Is Your Life TBD?

Your life, at least everyday going forward is “to be determined.” The only question is, who will determine it. 

It’s a vital question. The answer likely determines both the level of your happiness and success. 

Here’s a few questions to help you become more aware of exactly who is determining your future:

Are you waiting for your life to happen? Do you wait for something to happen while successful people are making something happen? Are you waiting for your “big break” while successful people are making themselves a big break? Are you working hard or hardly working? Do you have goals and a plan? Do you go with the flow or create your own current?

One final question … Can you be honest enough with yourself to answer those questions truthfully?

No matter the circumstances surrounding your life, the economy, your education, where you live or where you grew up or your past experience, no matter what, your future will be determined by YOUR actions. Your actions are mostly determined by your attitude. Your attitude is completely your choice and by extension, so are your actions.

Even if a great opportunity does just “happen” along you still must have to courage to reach out and grab it, you must have to courage to take action.

Do you have an attitude of “can’t” or an attitude of “can?” When you hear yourself saying “I can’t” you best ask yourself one final question. Do you really mean “I won’t?”  I’d personally bet on the “I won’t” because the fact is, you almost certainly can.

There will always be excuses available to those who are willing to accept them but here’s another fact: the most successful people do not need excuses and they will not accept them when available. They simply outwork the need for excuses.

While hard work is good, hard work with goals and a plan is great. If you don’t have goals, true goals, then you reduce your chances of success ten-fold. The creation of goals leads to the development of the plans required to achieve them. In nearly every instance the lack of a plan leads directly to the lack of success.

If you’re blaming “them” or blaming “they” for your lack of success then think again. Until you accept responsibility for where you are you will never do what needs to be done to get yourself where you want to be. You and only you can put yourself somewhere else. When you accept the excuses available you surrender the awesome power of YOU! You allow other people and other stuff to determine your level of success and often, your level of happiness.

Bob Hope, the great American comedian and actor said: “I’ve always been in the right place and time. Of course, I steered myself there.” That’s a great quote, I especially like the part where he says “I steered myself there.” You can do that too!

It’s unlikely that you would buy the car of your dreams and then only allow other people to drive it. Why let other people steer the course of your life with their excuses for you?

Step up this week and step out into the light of harsh reality. You may not like where you are but in all likelihood you put yourself there. You are the only person in the world who can put yourself somewhere else.

I’ve used the word success quite a bit in this post but so far I haven’t really defined what true success is. I won’t define it for you because I can’t. Never let anyone but YOU define your success or tell you if you are happy or not. YOUR success and happiness can only be defined by YOU. If others don’t believe you’re successful enough or happy enough that’s their problem not yours. 

If you’re happy with “where you are in life” then by all means stay there. If you’re not happy with where you are, then by any and all means possible, get moving in the direction of your dreams.

Start today!